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What Steve Jobs Can Teach Us About Jewish Education

by Nancy Parkes, Temple Israel Center


In a recent NY Times article, Steve Lohr explores what made Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, so extraordinary.   As I read the article, I couldn’t help but think about what I have learned about leadership and innovation during the past two years working with the New York Coalition of Innovating Congregations (LOMED) and in the Leadership Institute, a joint program with JTS and HUC

Here are the characteristics of Steve Jobs’ leadership, according to Lohr, that I believe parallel what I have learned through my work with LOMED and in the Leadership Institute:

  1. Steve Jobs inspired his team to do great work, really great work that will go down in history.  Through workshops and lectures that focus on leadership, trends in education, and teamwork, we have been challenged to think about education differently and to strive for excellence.  We don’t always get it right or perfect, but we have learned to set the bar high and to expect greatness from our staff, our learners, and ourselves.  No one claims that what we are doing will be written in the history books.  However, we have developed educational programs and structured learning in a way that is new and innovative.  And last spring, we did do something unprecedented.   In June, we held the very first T.I.C. educational retreat, which included professional, administrative, and custodial staff, clergy, and lay leaders.  We discussed our synagogue-wide theme, Community, Kehillah, and looked at how we can build and strengthen relationships within the T.I.C. community.   It was the beginning of a conversation that we will continue to discuss throughout the year.
  2. Fail well and don’t dwell on your mistakes.  They are great lessons.   We have designed programs and learning that looked great on paper, but failed in reaching some of our stated goals.  We acknowledged this and tried to glean lessons and insights from these experiences.  Throughout the year, we also asked for feedback, both informally and formally, and heard what was meaningful and what resonated with parents, as well as what they found irrelevant and uninspiring.  Feedback makes us better and I have always believed that we learn more from our failures than from our successes.  Thank you to all of you who respectfully shared your thoughts and opinions with us.   You have enhanced and improved what we do as a result.   And now for three ideas all connected to the emotional side of what we do:
  3. When you believe in an idea, be both passionate and patient.  
  4. Relentless intensity and total commitment can only happen when you are doing something you genuinely enjoy and what you believe is worthwhile. 
  5. Always follow your heart.  The only way to do great work is to adore what you are doing.  Most people I know in Jewish education are in this profession because they believe what they are doing is their calling.  It is so much more than just our occupation.  As a result, we put our heart and soul into every lesson plan, every program, and every meeting.  That explains why we are writing emails at 6am and 11pm; why we try to make every experience joyful and meaningful; and why it is hard for us not to take things personally.  This is personal to all of us- very personal.   It’s what we love, what we believe in with every ounce of our being, and what we want to share with you.  This often makes it hard to be patient.  We want you to embrace Judaism because we know it can add a dimension to your lives that will be incredibly meaningful and valuable.  But, we also recognize that everyone is on their own spiritual journey and that we need to exercise understanding and patience.  We know we won’t reach everyone every time, no matter how great the learning.  In the meantime, we’ll keep trying and following our hearts, knowing that we will be there whenever you are ready.  
  6. It’s not about the money.  Building something that will last should be your motivation.  It has never been about the money for teachers.  Everyone knows that no one goes into education expecting to be monetarily rich.  We go into Jewish education because we believe that what we do makes a difference and that we are creating the foundation for life-long Jewish learning.  We may not see the fruits of our labor for many years, but we know that what we do matters and changes lives.  This is what motivates us to do our best despite all  the challenges and obstacles.  This is also why we couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

Steve Jobs was indeed a visionary.  He changed the way we use and think about technology.  LOMED and the Leadership Institute are encouraging all of us to be visionaries, and to rethink how we “do” education and how to inspire our learners.  

We hope that you will join us for some learning this year as we continue to strive to bring the best educational experiences to our T.I.C community.

What lessons have you learned from the lives and work of great innovators?  What messages have inspired you?  Share your thoughts in the comments and continue the conversation!

Find out more about Temple Israel Center’s innovative work here.       

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